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20 years ago, Elisha, a resident of the Baghdad district of Bataween, said goodbye to her son Daniel who was conscripted against his will under the old regime. He never came back. But Elisha thinks he will return someday. The elderly woman, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, talks to her icon of Saint George, who talks to her back. She lives alone in 7 lonely rooms with her mangy old cat, Nabu.

Meanwhile, junk dealer Hadi, his eyes popping out of his head at the sight of the antique furniture in Elisha’s old home, tries to pressure her into selling the furniture to him at a killing, and real estate speculator Faraj wants to buy the house itself.

Her nosey but decent neighbor, Umm Salim, warns Elisha that Faraj might even forge his name on a deed and take the house away from her. Her daughters, who live in safety abroad, want their mother to leave Baghdad and move in with them. Elisha refuses these offers. She’s waiting for her son to come home.

Hadi, the junk dealer, has just lost his partner in a terrorist bombing. In his sharp-eyed perusal of the aftermath of the bombing he has found a precious object which he has concealed on his person.

What is it? A human nose, a body part. Hadi had come across a mutilated corpse that is missing its nose. He plans to attach the nose he has found to complete the corpse and provide the restored body with a respectful burial.

But the soul of a hotel security guard, who died heroically defending his hotel lobby from a charging truck bomb, has transmigrated into Hadi’s repaired corpse, animating it. This is the Frankenstein monster, or I would say more accurately, a golem, since this magical creature will be driven to seek revenge on behalf of the innocent victims of terrorism.

The monster wanders into Elisha’s house while she is at prayer before her icon and is welcomed as Daniel, her long lost son.

I’m not done yet. It’s as if to present an exposition of Ahmed Saadawi’s novel is to praise him.

The story is bracketed by a report on the Iraqi Tracking and Pursuit Department, a bureaucratic carbuncle whose original purpose was to archive reports and files. Under the leadership of its daft director, it has exceeded its authority and employed astrologers and fortune tellers to predict terrorist bombings. It duly sends these predictions to the Iraqi security forces, where they are ignored. Rival astrologers clash in an occult version of office politics.

Tracking and Pursuit focuses its attention on reports of a terrorist monster in the Bataween district. The Other engenders fear, or fear engenders the Other.

Journalist Mahmoud is sucked into this dark world when he falls under the suspicion of the director of Tracking and Pursuit. The more so since he was named editor-in-chief of his magazine by his publisher, who then takes a powder. It’s as if many of the characters in the novel get so scared by the “death machine” of a city that they flee from the novel’s pages.

As it avenges the victims of terrorism, the related body part falls off the Frankenstein monster. Or his body parts may fall off if the proper revenge is not taken in time. These missing parts must be replaced. Writer Saadawi evolves his concept of the monster deftly, as he offers such brilliant play to so many other aspects of his fictional world.

The monster’s enablers…he has fans and groupies…sometimes replace his missing body parts with the parts of criminals instead of the parts of victims. The monster’s moral vision becomes clouded. It becomes harder to tell criminals from victims since characters can seem to be both. You may think of Robert De Niro in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a film that is cited in the story.

To attempt to describe Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad is to praise him.

Nabu, the mangy cat, reappears at the end of the novel.